It’s been raining non-stop for the past few days. I’m irritable and yearning for comfort food. A plate of fried plantain would really hit the spot.Unfortunately, I’ve run out of stock of my frozen seasoned plantain.Life here is such that whenever I come across a bounty of plantain, I need to save a few. But supply is never guaranteed. Could today be my lucky day?
Leaving work, I take a detour to the one store in town that has the best chance of having ripe plantain in stock. Two for a dollar at that. What a steal! Every other store might have a very green plantain, you know the kind that never sees yellow for the price of 89 cents per finger. Unfortunately, it’s not my lucky day. The plantains today look like bananas. Green bananas that will be tan-brown tomorrow with no yellow ripening in their future. Dejected I recall having seen a new promising store in town a few weeks back. It had beckoned me with it’s large sign reading HALAL. As I drove by, I had caught the words “Asian” and “African” as well. Now where was that store again? Racking my mind.
I drive off again. It has started to rain…again. Should I even bother? They are unlikely to have plantains. Plus it’s almost 6pm and they might be closed. But it would really cheer me up to find unexpected goods. They might even have goat meat. It’s halal after all. As I make my way through the traffic, my mind drifts to the last Asian/African store that I patronized. I found it last year while driving through town. It was an unusual store because the main sign suggested that it was a hardware store. I visited it a couple times each time finding a new treasure. But the Vietnamese owner had a stroke this spring and the store has been boarded up ever since.
I find my way to the new store. It has an OPEN sign blinking in the window. Good. I dash through the rain, open the front door, and step in. At my foot is a head of curly black hair. How odd. The head is attached to a body sprawled on the floor perpendicular to the door. It doesn’t stir. It’s lying on a very pretty mat. I take all of this in in the first second. In the second second the head lifts off the floor and dark sleepy eyes meet my own. It’s on a face of a young boy. Boy? He might even be in his early twenties. Have I really reached that stage in life where people of that age are boys and girls? My oh my!
I look away and start perusing the shelves. I wonder if there is anyone else in the store. Owner-wise that is because it’s clear to me that I’m the only customer. I wonder if I’m the first customer of the day. The “boy” sits up on his mat and watches me while I scan the bare shelves. I wonder what he is thinking. I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this store but I still want to see what they have. Oh look, a shelf of Tropiway fufu flours, palm-nut pulp, and palm-nut oil. I am now out of the “boy’s” line of sight. I hear him get up and as he comes round the corner I make my way back to the front. Peek-a-boo! I don’t want to be watched like a hawk. But there are no other customers and it’s either watch me or sleep it seems.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I can’t leave here without purchasing something. It might be the first sale of the day. The shelves are boring to me because they hold no surprises. I already have Nido, cumin, and henna at home.So I walk to the freezer. I see a couple frozen chickens and a whole bunch of frozen meat bundles. All unlabeled of course. The “boy” is by my side. He’s fully awake and ready for conversation now. I wonder where he is from. Somalia? Eritrea? Djibouti? I am reminded of “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears”. I take the bait.
“Is this chicken or hen?” I ask. He looks at me and his eyes are saying W-T-F. “Hen & chicken are the same thing” he educates me. “Not necessarily” I answer back and explain that chicken is what they have in the grocery stores – the meat is tender; and what I want is hen – the meat is harder. I am told that this here is soft chicken. I’m not interested. I ask if the questionable meat in the freezer is goat. I simultaneously ask myself if he were to answer in the affirmative would I really buy it while I start to list the possible infections I could be setting myself up for. Multi-tasker I am that’s true. Luckily, it’s beef. But I still don’t want to leave the store empty-handed. I feel as if I owe them a purchase. “Do you have any goat?” The boy walks into a walk-in freezer where he pulls a clean bag of goat from neatly stacked boxes and starts to shiver from his 10 second exposure to the cold. I keep him in the freezer by asking “what about tilapia?” I can tell he wants out of there. They do have boxes of frozen tilapia…from China. I decide to pass.
At the counter paying for my goat, I glance at the cosmetics. I wonder if they have any prescription pharmaceuticals like that one store I visited in the Bronx in 2009. That was a Ghanaian owned store which had anti-malarials, anti-parasitics, and other prescription medications behind the counter….to be purchased without a prescription. I don’t even think they were manufactured in the US. I was told then that they were a convenience to the self-diagnosing, non-insured customers who couldn’t afford to go to the doctor or to fill a prescription at a regular pharmacy. I wondered then how many stores of these kind – African, Hispanic, Caribbean, Indian, Korean etc.- have imported prescription medications for sale behind the counter. Surely, that’s not legal.
But this store isn’t one of them. Or maybe, they are smart enough not to display them in the front in full view of each customer. No, the cosmetic display only hold various
skin bleaching, ahem, skin lightening creams.
I pay for my goat and leave. What shall it be this weekend? Goat stew or goat curry? Oh, heavy decisions.